This week I heard Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group delivering a live talk at the Tribeca Film Festival’s Imagination Day in New York City. He reflected on lessons learnt during his long and varied career.
Branson attributes his business success to "screw it - let's do it" attitude and his fear of "saying no to something." Very powerful!
He shared a few concrete pointers that are spot on:
Travel: The best way to learn people, cultures and their pain points. He said business is all about coming up with an idea that makes other people’s lives better. Travel is your avenue to make that happen by understanding and developing your point of view on what's going on in other parts of the world. Even if you won't pick up a superb idea, how others do it will make you think.
Listen & Take Notes: For Richard Branson, a leader is someone “who will praise and not criticize” to “draw out the best in people.” Along the same lines, his version of leadership is based on the ability of an individual to listen more than they talk. I'm a firm believer of this approach. One needs to be a good listener not only to make other person feel important but to have a meaningful and balanced conversation.
Branson is a realist and to him this effectively translates to taking notes: “If you don’t write things down, how are you going to remember half the things the person told you?”
At a personal level, this is an area of improvement for me always. I started taking my notes digitally but now reverting to a notebook approach. At times what you write by yourself sticks!
Hire from Within: This piece of wisdom is fascinating. Sir Richard Branson undeniably understands the benefits of hiring an outside candidate as chief executive of a company, BUT he doesn't often go outside to hire for the major positions. He looks for company's existing talent pool knowingly some boxes would remain unchecked but it also means he is never exposed to a candidate with glaring, unforeseen weaknesses. It's more of Branson's philosophy: “the whole company will be pleased that you employ from within; they all have the chance to one day get the top job.”
Work from Home: Branson understands the importance of flexible schedules. Throughout his career, his policy has been to work from home, whenever possible. By doing so, “his kids have grown up crawling at his feet.” He’s taken meetings while changing a nappy and wants his employees to have the freedom to do the same.
These lessons are guidance for all of us - these might or might not be relevant for every situation and every leader. Sir Richard Branson, however, has proved this to the world through his undeniably good fortune that didn't happen by an accident.